Ever wonder if you have what it takes to be a leader? I’ll tell you right now: The answer is yes.
So what if you don’t manage 50 people. You’re still a leader. You don’t own a company? Still a leader. You don’t have a corner office–heck, you don’t even have an office! You’re still capable of being a leader. You’re a stay-at-home mom? Yep, still a leader. You’re a school custodian? Absolutely, you are a leader. Member of the JV tennis team? Don’t have a college degree? Answer to three bosses? Leader, leader, leader.
Someone recently asked me if I thought they could be successful in our corporate culture as a leader. I responded, “That’s really up to you. You have the right tools and abilities, but you have to choose what you will do with it.”
I’ve always believed that everyone is called to leadership. In fact, I started writing because I wanted to get that message across loud and clear. But sometimes, there are obstacles holding us back from realizing that simple fact.
These Are Not Leadership Skills
There’s a long list of assumptions that each and every one of us has made when evaluating ourselves and others. A lot of times we have to fight really hard to conquer these false assumptions and overcome the idea that we can’t lead. Let’s dismantle some of these assumptions right now.
Leadership is not:
- Being the funniest person in the room
- Having a company
- Doing the right thing all the time
- Knowing the right answer all the time
- Being great at soccer in eighth grade
- About your title
- About your income level
- About the car you drive
- Having more degrees
- Sounding wise
- Getting the final word
When you were a kid, were you ever picked last for a game of kickball? Cut from a school play? Did you lose a student government election, or even just get a bad grade that stuck with you years later? Those were moments when false assumptions about yourself were established. “I can’t lead on the field, nobody wants me on the team.” “I’m no good at music, I’ll just quit.” “I’m not a leader,” and “I stink at math.” Little moments add up and create lasting impressions that contribute to an idea that we don’t have what it takes and because of that, we’re not really leadership material.
The Leadership Skills Within All of Us
Psychological research shows that leaders today are honest, have vision, are self aware and are good communicators. Most of the leaders I encounter have experienced their fair share of failure and loss. All of that sounds pretty do-able, right? I think it’s even simpler than that. The best leaders I know all share one common trait: they want to make a positive impact on the lives of those around them. And we’re all born with an intrinsic desire to make an impact.
Here’s where I’d like to take things a step further. When we conclude that we can’t lead, it’s not a neutral choice. It has a negative impact. There are only two choices in any situation: To lead and to impact things positively, or not to lead and to impact things negatively.
My Leadership Story
Here’s a story about how I finally figured out I had what it takes to be a leader and where my false assumptions took me first. In college, I had a lot of rich experiences, met some great people and had a lot of fun. But my GPA took a hit from time to time. I graduated with a 2.4, and struggled finding a job after graduation. The GPA and the troubled job search shaped my perception of my own leadership ability.
Once I finally found a 100% commission sales job, I attributed it to luck. At that point, I had internalized the idea that I wasn’t a real leader, feeling almost like I didn’t even deserve the job. I believed that I missed the boat (whatever that is). I was 21. Then, they eliminated my position and let me go pretty quickly. I was shocked, but somehow that played perfectly into my own assumptions about myself. It was a devastating first experience in the workplace, and in my mind it reflected my inability to lead.
From a very young age I had dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur, but by the time I finally got my first job out of college I had rejected those dreams because of many false assumptions. I worked for 20 years before I finally connected with that dream again and started my own business.
What, then, was I doing for those 20 years? I was being fearful. My experience of rejection in my job search and disappointment in my GPA took away my vision and kept me from making an impact. Because I associated leadership with a secure job and a salary, the entire concept became out of reach for me. My concept was a “one size fits all” type of leadership, which is simply not valid.
Fill in the Blank
I finally got the guts to imagine myself as a great sales rep, important contributor at work and personally, and able to start my own business. This was all thanks to a mentor who helped me see my own abilities and expand my narrow perception of leadership. Every day, from the moment we start school or even earlier than that, we are fighting through messages that tamper with our internal view of who we are and how we can make an impact. I challenge each and every one of you to find that internal message, acknowledge it–and then reject it. Then go out and make an impact.
I wish I could tell you that working through all of this was a once-and-done type thing. Today–many years later–I still have to be intentional about mustering the guts to step up and make an impact.
Let’s get started. If you could finish the following sentence, what would it be?